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Parente wins PWC GT title, and later inherits Monterey win

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The Pirelli World Challenge GT championship at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca came down to the final lap, and even further than that a several-hour review of the finish, to determine both a race winner and a champion.

Ultimately, Alvaro Parente emerged with both at the end of a crazy day in Monterey.

The Portuguese driver of the No. 9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3 headed into the weekend with a nine-point lead over Patrick Long, Porsche’s lone American factory driver in the No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.

But that was reduced to two points mere hours before the race began, owing to a points audit that saw Parente having been incorrectly awarded seven points for pole back at Lime Rock race two, points which should have gone to Andrew Palmer. Palmer did not start the race on account of a serious accident in morning warmup that left him critically injured; alas, Parente moved up to P1 there for the race that occurred all the way back in May, but the points note was only caught this weekend.

Sunday’s race was littered with cautions for accidents and it looked as though it would end under yellow following a heavy accident for Drew Regitz in his No. 19 Stephen Cameron Racing Audi R8 LMS ultra at Turn 2. All of it built to a crescendo on the final lap, a one-lap green and white flag showdown for both the race and the title.

Johnny O’Connell, who’d led the entire race from pole in the No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R, restarted first with Long in second and Parente third. As it stood, Long held the championship lead.

However, O’Connell ran wide off Turn 4 and that opened the door for Long to make a run to the inside off the right-handed Turn 4, which became the outside for the left-handed Turn 5.

O’Connell contacted Long, which sent Long off course on corner exit and down the order into fifth. It promoted Parente into second, which was enough to give him the championship on the road. Meanwhile O’Connell won on the road.

Or so he thought, as for the second time this year in California (Long Beach), O’Connell lost the win hours later when it was determined he had committed avoidable contact. PWC officials assessed a 2.1-second post-race time penalty, enough to drop him behind Long.

“The penalty was accessed to Johnny O’Connell for avoidable contact entering turn five on the final lap of today’s GT/GTA/GT Cup Round 20,” said Greg Gill, CEO and president of WC Vision, producers of the Pirelli World Challenge. “The stewards looked at various angles of the incident and determined that Johnny had two wheels off the track and came back onto the track, making contact with Patrick. This contact knocked Patrick off the track in turn five. And the penalty was determined this evening after hours of review.”

Here were O’Connell and Long’s respective takes, via a series release:

“In that final green-white-checkered deal, I got a good start and then going through Turn 4 and I understeered off and dropped two wheels,” O’Connell said. “That allowed Patrick (Long) to get around the outside of me but never cleared me. So when we went into the breaking zone, I’m on the inside and he’s not clear of me so it’s not my job to give stuff. It’s my job to win races and was very shocked when he started turning down and we had contact.”

“I raced Johnny (O’Connell) at the end of the race and I expected racing room and didn’t get it,” Long said. “For him not to be in the championship hunt and to be the deciding factor is a difficult situation. In every scenario, there are two drivers that make a decision. There was no intention to try and battle Johnny the entire race. My focus was on the championship and the two times I was alongside or ahead of him, it came down to his mistakes. This is why we all love this sport, it is action packed.”

parente-on-car-for-titleParente, who’d endured a roller coaster of a day his own but raced both drivers cleanly, reflected on the wild afternoon. He’d started sixth, but launched into third by Turn 2 on the opening lap, which even gave him a shot at the title.

“What a crazy day. I had a fantastic start… managed to jump into third position,” Parente said. “Then I was pushing hard; there were two moments I was into Pat (Long) and trying to pass him. He defended well, I didn’t risk the contact at the time. I didn’t push hard for the move, but I was working on it. Then I realized halfway after the second safety car that it was going to be hard to pass him since he had good pace.

“And then came that crazy last lap; I can’t describe what went on there. I think there was a little bit of dirt into turn four, Johnny (O’Connell) had a bit of a moment, Pat (Long) tried to pass him on the outside and fought hard for the position in the braking zone and Johnny obviously wasn’t going to back down. I was looking to see and thought, ‘He’s going to go for it,’ and Johnny defended his position, Pat went wide, and I went by. It was a great year. What a fantastic year for Pirelli World Challenge. It’s a great and unique thing going on here in the GT racing world.”

Cooper MacNeil (GTA) and Corey Fergus (GT Cup) took the other two class wins, MacNeil perhaps a bit fortunate after Acura driver Ryan Eversley had a rare contact instance and knocked Long’s Wright Motorsports teammate Michael Schein off the road.

“It ended up helping me because he dropped two wheels exiting Turn 9 and basically lost it into Turn 10 and basically collected Schein who was in the lead and I was right there to capitalize. Sometimes things just go your way like that,” MacNeil admitted.

Fergus took an overdue first GT Cup win this year after class champion Alec Udell and Sloan Urry had swept the season to date.

John Force has a job for soon-to-be retired Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Photo courtesy John Force official Twitter page
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The battle for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s post-retirement services has begun.

And leave it to none other than 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force to be the first to offer Junior a job.

As a Funny Car driver, of course.

Look at the plusses: they both drive for Chevrolet, they both like beer, Junior wouldn’t have to worry about turning left or right (on road courses) any more, he’d be able to stay on the straight and narrow (drag strip, that is) and …

Perhaps the best thing of all, he could ultimately become Force’s replacement as the most popular driver in NHRA drag racing when (or if) Force ever decides to retire himself.

Check out Force’s job offer:

Several current or former Verizon IndyCar Series drivers also took to social media to pay homage to Junior — including another member of the Force family, son-in-law Graham Rahal, who is married to drag racer Courtney Force.

 

 

 

Loftus Robinson Rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for Indy 500

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Indianapolis-based real estate developer Loftus Robinson will rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. The relationship between Loftus Robinson and DRR goes back to 2015, when they first partnered for the “500.” The partnership continues for 2017, with Sage Karam piloting the effort for the second consecutive year.

“Being an Indianapolis-based company, we felt it has been important to partner with another local company, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, in the famed Indy 500,” said Drew Loftus, co-principal of Loftus Robinson. “The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has served as a great backdrop for our business’ growth. We have enjoyed our relationship with Dennis and his racing team. They have built a tremendous infrastructure to assist us and our partners through the event. We’re anxious to see Sage back on track in the No. 24 DRR Chevrolet this May.”

Team co-owner Dennis Reinbold echoed Loftus’ enthusiam. “Loftus Robinson has been one of the Indianapolis area’s top young commercial real estate companies in recent years and we are very pleased to have them back in 2017 with our Indy 500 entry,” he explained. “Loftus Robinson has utilized our racing team’s participation in the world’s greatest auto race to formulate strong relationships with their business partners as well as developing new clients right at the track. We hope to put them in victory lane on May 28 with Sage at the wheel.”

Practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil begins on May 15.

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JR Hildebrand cleared to return for Phoenix

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After sitting out the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama last weekend, JR Hildebrand will be able to return to action for this weekend’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), after being cleared Tuesday to drive.

The primary driver of the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing sustained a broken bone in his left hand in a final lap accident at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 9, after a collision with Mikhail Aleshin. He was re-evaluated upon returning to Indianapolis and was not cleared to drive for the Barber Motorsports Park race.

Hildebrand was on site in Birmingham, Ala. in a driver coach role for Zach Veach, who filled in for his Verizon IndyCar Series debut. Veach started and finished 19th in his first start.

For Hildebrand, the return to Phoenix comes after he paced the series official preseason open test there in February, and comes as a great opportunity to come back from a challenging start to the year. Hildebrand had nondescript runs of 13th and 11th in the first two races but was 11th in points after Long Beach, although he fell to 21st when he missed Barber.

“It’s been a tricky couple of weeks working through this injury, I’m certainly anxious to get back in the car!” he said in a release. “I feel like I’m far enough along to be able to go for it this weekend in Phoenix. I know we’ve got a good program; I want to be able to come through for the team at an event where we should be strong. The competition there is tough, I expect we will really have to be on our game over the course of the weekend. I’m looking forward to getting back in the Fuzzy’s Vodka car! Everyone has been super helpful and I appreciate the hard work that everyone has put in to be able to get me back in.”

Meanwhile team owner Carpenter makes his first start of the season in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet as part of his oval-only program.

Spencer Pigot will be back in the No. 20 car at the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on May 13, before Carpenter’s back in for the rest of the month of May leading up to and into the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

IMSA: Henzler, Bonanomi called up for drives at COTA

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Two fill-in drivers have been confirmed for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s next race at Circuit of The Americas, on May 6.

Wolf Henzler will deputize for Kevin Estre in the No. 912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR, while Marco Bonanomi will make his IMSA Prototype class debut as a fill-in driver for Tom Kimber-Smith in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson.

Henzler will be in the No. 912 car alongside Laurens Vanthoor in GT Le Mans in the first “standard” two-hour, 40-minute race of the season, the Advance Auto Parts Showdown, as Estre will be on FIA World Endurance Championship duty the same day in the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps with Porsche’s GT Team there.

Henzler’s absence means if TRG runs its Porsche 911 GT3 R at COTA in the GT Daytona class, Kevin Buckler would need a replacement for him.

There’s another potential fill-in-for-WEC driver scenario needed if Alegra Motorsports, the Rolex 24 at Daytona winners, were to run in GTD as well. Thus far Carlos de Quesada’s team has run Daniel Morad and Porsche factory driver Michael Christensen in its No. 28 Porsche in GTD through three races, but with Christensen and Estre set to share the No. 92 car at Spa, a replacement would need to be sourced there.

Bonanomi is the second replacement that is confirmed though. The Italian, who made one prior IMSA start since the 2014 merger with Fall-Line Motorsports in an Audi R8 LMS Ultra, will fill-in for “TKS,” who returns to England to take care of his mother, who is battling cancer.

“Tom will unfortunately miss the next race at Circuit of the Americas. He needs to be able to spend time back in the UK with his mother who is presently undergoing treatment for cancer,” said team principal Bobby Oergel.

“As all the drivers who have driven with PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports know, once you’re a part of our team, you’re family, and Tom is a big part of this family. It’s unfortunate that he will miss a round of the championship, but we know that family comes before racing, and we’re happy that he is able to take the time he needs to be with his family during this time.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Tom and his mother, and we are praying that she will be cancer free in the near future.”

Bonanomi has tested with the car and will share the car with Jose Gutierrez, who missed Long Beach as Will Owen filled in for him there.

“I was very happy to receive the call from PR1 to drive at their test at COTA. It was my first time driving the Ligier, but I think the test was very positive,” said Bonanomi.

“We tested some set up changes for the race that I think will be very good. The track itself is very demanding on the car and tires, especially with the extreme temperatures that can be present. The first practices during race week will be very critical to get everything just right in terms of set up, but after the test, I think we should be pretty close.”